I caught up with Roland Chesters to talk about the book he’s written about being diagnosed with HIV — Ripples From The Edge Of Life.
Why was writing this book the right way to share your story?
It’s not only my story — the book contains the stories of 13 other people diagnosed with HIV, and in some cases AIDS, between 1982 and 2015. I’ve been asked by one of those contributors not to call these ‘stories’ as that usually implies a work of fiction. These are not. They are real life, warts and all.
The book also contains the voices of those who have been around me since my diagnosis. I couldn’t conceive of a better format to include all of those voices than in a book.
Did writing the book help you to work through the pain and trauma of the initial diagnosis and the aftermath?
The process was painful, requiring me to go back to experiences which were hugely painful at the time. But it has also been cathartic and empowering. I no longer have to hide from anyone or anything. It’s all in the public domain. It’s also enabled me to reflect on how far I’ve come since that diagnosis 2006.
When did you start to realise that there was life beyond your diagnosis? That the improving medication was changing our understanding of what a diagnosis meant?
I was told I had two weeks to live when I was given my diagnosis. I guess 15 days after that, I started to realise that I was going to live longer and what that potentially meant.
To be honest, I’d spent two years of thinking I was going mad because I’d seen so many specialists and consultants and had so many tests, but none of them could tell me why I was gradually losing the use of my arms and legs, speech and memory. So when I was eventually given a diagnosis my overwhelming feeling was one of a relief — I wasn’t going mad, I wasn’t imagining it or making it up. But my future was still very uncertain and that uncertainty had a major impact on my mental well-being.
Although I was aware that HIV/AIDS no longer needed to be a death sentence, I was concerned about what the quality of my life may be. I was determined that if my quality of life were not what I wanted it to be, then there would be no life for me.
The experience of someone being diagnosed today is quite different from your experience in 2006. Why is your story relevant to today’s readers?
Although the treatment of the condition has made amazing progress in the 35 years since HIV first appeared, the levels of stigma surrounding the condition — certainly here in the UK — remain pretty much unchanged.
One of the consistent themes that runs through the contributions of the 13 other people in the book is the impact that that stigma has on their mental health. While HIV+ people may be living longer, healthier lives, we still have to be very aware of who may have that information about us and what they will do with it. The reactions we may get from people once they know can still be unpredictable, unexpected and, to put it mildly, sometimes very unhelpful.
There’s been no government-driven public campaign of information regarding this disease since the tombstones and the icebergs of the mid 1980s, and that was a campaign of fear, not education. That’s what people still remember — the fear remains, driven by ignorance. Fear creates the stigma, and stigma is the killer.
I’ve facilitated workshops for Terrence Higgins Trust for newly diagnosed gay men, and the one thing that’s common to all of them when they turn up for the first session is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of how other people will deal with their diagnosis. Fear of the loss of the life they were expecting to have.
We also have to remember that we are now seeing people who have been living thanks to the medication for a number of years. But nobody really knows what the long-term impact of that medication on the body will be.
Having lived through some of the most traumatic years of the epidemic, how do you feel about the changing landscape of HIV?
It’s a cultural shift. Undetectable = Untransmittable, or U=U, has only been around a couple of years, compared to the 30+ years where the message that condomless sex equals ‘risky’ behaviour — it takes time for the message to start to take hold.
Too many people have seen the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on the people they knew and loved and the very slow initial response to the epidemic — to be able to automatically switch off those feelings.
What do you hope that people feel when reading the book?
To recognise that HIV/AIDS hasn’t gone away, that it continues to have an impact. The message of this book applies not only to being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS but with any kind of life-changing condition.
I came up with the title, Ripples from the Edge of Life, because it’s not only the person who receives that diagnosis that’s impacted, but also the people around them — the ripple effect. People who have been diagnosed often feel very isolated, marginalised, and living life right on the edge.
As your life has progressed, do you have further chapters to write in this story, or are you turning your writing attention to other subjects?
I’m not a writer. I didn’t write this book with the intention of being seen as a writer. This book is about my life. I only have one life. For me, there will be no other books. But there are certainly many many more narratives of people living with HIV/AIDS to be told and I hope somebody else will take up that baton. Otherwise, who will tell our stories when we’re gone?
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Butt sex for beginners
I caught up with Chris Davis from TAKE TWO to discuss how a dietary supplement can play an important role in anal sex.
What led you to create the TAKE TWO dietary supplement?
We saw an opportunity to deliver the absolute highest quality of dietary fibre blends to a demanding market, while offering a premium alternative with high-end, discreet packaging that really sets us apart from other brands.
My understanding is that there are similar types of fibre supplement products on the market, but I haven’t seen anyone else market them specifically to men as an aid to anal sex. Why did you decide to focus on that market?
Pure for Men is the clear market leader and actually does speak to clean anal sex, however, we’ve found what is considered to be a more effective formula that delivers even better results.
We decided to make a splash in the market after early customer reviews raved about just how much of a difference TAKE TWO made to their digestive health and confidence in the bedroom. We also found that a lot of customers prefer discreet packaging and bottle labels, which matches the high-end look and feel of TAKE TWO.
Is TAKE TWO an alternative to douching or just an additional option to help guys be clean and confident?
We like the idea of have additional tools in the shed for every occasion! TAKE TWO is not meant to completely eliminate the need for general maintenance and hygiene, but we have found that many of our customers spend 70 percent less time ‘getting ready’ while some users have forgone traditional preparation steps, altogether. We’re such strong believers in the above claims that we stand by these promised results with a money-back guarantee.
The edition that you’ve created in partnership with the Tom of Finland Foundation looks great — why was the imagery of Tom of Finland a good fit for TAKE TWO?
It’s no secret that here in the office, we love the rich, leather-bound imagery rooted in Tom of Finland’s unique catalogue of art. It was an obvious match to the leather-like look and feel of our standard TAKE TWO bottle design, and not at all hard to imagine how amazing the Tom of Finland art would look if properly featured on the TAKE TWO product.
We worked closely with the Tom of Finland Foundation to identify some of the most iconic pieces, and coupled them with the jaw-dropping metallic backing on each panel to give that one-of-a-kind finish. After the first bottle was completed, we knew it was a winning bet.
Customers have fallen in love with the result, and we’re already getting daily requests for new favourite pieces of Tom of Finland artwork to be featured next.
How do you market your product?
We rely heavily on word-of-mouth, but have run a few very successful campaigns on social networks and dating apps like Scruff and Hornet. We’ve also partnered with doctors serving the LGBTQ community around the US who see the immense value in supporting fibre-rich diets via TAKE TWO’s premium blend of soluble and insoluble fibres. You’ll likely see TAKE TWO popping up in various radio, television and social media campaigns featuring respected online personalities that have made the switch to better fibre.
I was interested to see in your Q&As that you specifically talk about the product’s capability with PrEP — was that a question that you were receiving from customers or did you just want to proactively address any potential concerns that might be out there?
Although risks are determined to be relatively low when it comes to dietary fibre supplements and medications like PrEP, we wanted to be 100 percent certain that best-practices are being followed to eliminate any doubts.
If I was a young guy, just starting to explore my sexuality, what hints or tips would you give to make anal sex as enjoyable as possible?
- Get to know yourself and your body inside and out. This includes everything from exploring tools like lubricant and practising with safe objects and toys to get a feel for what works for you.
- Be sure you are comfortable with and trust your sexual partners before diving in.
- Remain sex-positive and remember that sex is a long journey — an experience that is meant to be enjoyable.
- Take your time and communicate freely before, during, and after playtime.
- Play safe!
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